Posted February 18, 2018 by Angelo Delos Trinos in Movies/TV

Mr. Grey Will Examine You Now: How Fifty Shades Climaxed To The Top


When boiled down to its most basic elements, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is an overpriced softcore porno, which made observers wonder how and why such a seemingly vapid material became the dominant erotica of the decade. This is because of its popularity, which will be examined in this article.

Take note that this is in no way a defense of Fifty Shades of Grey. A four minute short on XVideos has more substance and quality than anything Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey went through, and this piece only aims to theorize on how Fifty Shades became what it is today.


Fifty Shades of Grey is similar to Tommy Wiseau’s (in)famous ego project: The Room. Both were mauled by critics upon release, and yet both are quoted and name-dropped in everyday conversations. Fifty Shades is loved ironically, making it the latest entry in the pantheon of “so bad it’s good” works where the likes of Batman and Robin and Birdemic reside. From the pretentious narrations about “inner goddesses” to the movies’ awkwardness, Fifty Shades is a goldmine of unintentional humor. This ironic appeal can be found not just in the novels, but even more so in its origin story – an essential hallmark of many beloved “so bad they’re great” works.

As elaborated by Daily Beast, Fifty Shades of Grey first saw life as an erotica fanfiction based on Stephanie Meyer’s vampire saga, Twilight. Titled Master of the Universe and having no relation to He-Man and his leather-loving Eternian friends, James (under the penname Snowqueen’s Icedragon) reimagined Twilight taking place in contemporary Seattle, where Bella was a college student and Edward was a billionaire businessman.


When readers on fanfiction.net reacted negatively towards this highly-sexualized remake, James reworked Master of the Universe into Fifty Shades of Grey by splitting the story into three parts, replacing vampirism with a sex dungeon known as “The Red Room,” and changing the names of the characters. And thus, a legend in irony was born.


As of this writing, Fifty Shades Freed climaxed with a $137 million global box office – even if the conclusive Fifty Shades entry scored a flaccid 11% on Rottentomatoes. Fifty Shades is lucrative, as proven by the movies’ arousing box office sales worth upwards a billion Dollars and the first book selling an orgasmic 100 million copies. Despite all the irony and hate, there is genuine love for Fifty Shades – which makes some people wonder how this could be.

The answer to this is not a gimmicky Mystery Box that needs countless fan-theories or even more Cloverfield movies to make sense of, but a simple matter of supply and demand. While niche, erotica has its loyalists, and Fifty Shades is the most mainstream example of the genre since Basic Instinct and other sleazy thrillers from the ‘90s. Fifty Shades came at the right time and place when it first hit shelves in 2011, and its mostly middle-aged, female audience – hence it being dubbed “Mommy Porn” – eagerly supported a novel that filled a void in their imaginations that only erotica could fill.

Another aspect that helped Fifty Shades rise to the top was its premise. As discussed by Lizzie Crocker of Daily Beast, Fifty Shades is a basic Cinderella-story where “the rich-man-sweeps-innocent-beauty-off-her-feet female fantasy. And as in so many romance novels, beneath the hero’s domineering veneer there’s a vulnerability that only the heroine can penetrate, though not without some emotional maneuvering.” Momentarily ignoring the plot-relevant fetishes, Fifty Shades is a fairy tale aimed at older women and a power fantasy that fulfills their hidden desires, which is why it garnered such a strong response from both its target audience and its detractors.


This does not justify the story’s problematic elements like Christian’s stalker tendencies or its normalizing of rape and abuse (emotional, mental, sexual, etc.). People were quick to call out James for these during the heated live Q&A she held on Twitter, which quickly descended into mudslinging. As a meme said, Fifty Shades would be an episode on Criminal Minds if Christian Grey lived in a trailer park instead of a million Dollar penthouse.


These rightfully criticized issues don’t mean that E.L. James is a sinister sex pervert, but show that she’s another creator who simply didn’t put that much thought into her power fantasy. A problem inherent in power fantasies is its excessive sexualization, as seen in Transformers or any harem-themed anime series – both of which are primarily aimed at horny teenage boys.  In power fantasies, not much thought is put into morals, nuance and subtleties because in real life, these get in the way of one achieving their basest sexual fantasies. The point of the power fantasy is wish fulfillment, and however questionably raunchy the wish may be, the creator is going to turn it into reality.

The backlash and controversy caused by Fifty Shades’ lack of nuance propelled it even further into the spotlight, proving that adage about bad publicity right. By inspiring ironic viewings of the material to sparking legitimate debates about the story’s regressive and potentially harmful sexual themes and representations of the BDSM (Bondage-Discipline-Sadism-Masochism) community, Fifty Shades catapulted itself into relevance through the sheer force of its shameless, trashy nature. Whether or not you like Fifty Shades, it’s an inescapable force of sexualized trash that won’t be leaving the public conscience any time soon.


Angelo Delos Trinos

Part-time artist and writer, full-time critic/overthinker. He believes that Samuel L.Jackson is the greatest actor on earth and he misses video stores.